Due to the spike of filings that typically occurs in the new year, January has become known as “Divorce Month.” It’s nothing to celebrate. Family cohesion has long been understood to be a bedrock of a safe, productive society.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the institution of no-fault divorce dramatically increased divorce rates. No-fault divorce was what spurred state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, to file a bill that would make divorces harder and more costly to obtain.
Krause’s bill isn’t likely to pass, but whatever its fate, we in Texas and across the country can do a better job of dealing with families when they split up. Specifically, we should make shared parenting the default outcome of every divorce in which children are involved and neither parent is unfit to care for them.
The primary reason divorce is so traumatic for children is that, far too often, they lose one parent in the process. Family courts routinely give sole or primary parenting time to one parent (usually the mother) and marginalize the other (usually the father) in the child’s life. A study conducted for Nebraska found that courts gave sole or primary custody to mothers in 75 percent of cases but to fathers in only 15 percent. Those noncustodial fathers were allowed by the courts to see their kids just 16 percent of the time.
Courts do this despite social science demonstrating that equal or near-equal parenting time for each parent produces the best outcomes for children of divorce. In 2014, Dr. Richard Warshak, author of “Divorce Poison,” analyzed the existing science on the welfare of the children of divorce. His work was endorsed by 110 scientists worldwide working in the field of children’s well-being and parenting time.
Authoritative as Warshak’s work is, the science on the need of children for fathers scarcely stops with it. For decades, we’ve known that fatherlessness is the bane of children and society. Put simply, we should be doing everything in our power to keep fathers in children’s lives.
According to federal statistics, including from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Census Bureau, children raised by single parents account for 63 percent of teen suicides; 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions; 71 percent of high school dropouts; 75 percent of children in chemical abuse centers; 85 percent of those in prison; 85 percent of children who exhibit behavioral disorders; and 90 percent of homeless and runaway children.
Our epidemic of fatherlessness hits children particularly hard, but they are not the only ones hurt. Consider the above statistics and ask yourself how much taxpayers shell out each year to combat the many ills occasioned by children raised without fathers. Then remember that in the face of established science, family courts promote the very fatherlessness that we the people end up paying for.
Worse, our laws and judges incentivize divorce. They do that in three major ways. First, by ordering sole or primary custody instead of shared parenting, they make one parent a “winner” and one a “loser.” Second, by usually giving sole or primary custody to mothers, they encourage mothers to seek divorce because those mothers assume they’ll “win” the custody case. Unsurprisingly, 70 percent of divorce cases are filed by mothers.
There’s an answer to all this — shared parenting. By ensuring that both parents remain actively involved in children’s lives after a divorce, shared parenting cures a host of ills. Most important, it’s good for kids, but it’s good for adults, too. Single mothers who are the sole or primary caregivers to children find themselves hamstrung when it comes to getting and holding a full-time job. A whopping 40 percent of single mothers in the United States live in poverty and, of course, so do their children.
With shared parenting, neither parent “wins” or “loses.” But children win.